Your polygamous ancestors would NOT approve of your gay marriage

Bb9g8niCQAASYkRFederal judge strikes down Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage (Salt Lake Tribune)
Breaking: Utah’s first gay married couple? (QSaltLake)

I am, I must say, floored by how suddenly this has happened. An appeal is certain, and who knows what will happen at that point, which makes it premature to be issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, except for political/public relations purposes. But still… wow.

As a fussy historian, though, I feel I need to rain on the parade a little. One of the men who are now being touted as possibly the first gay couple married in Utah tweeted the following, accompanying a photo of the couple posing with their marriage certificate:

Me and my new husband!! My polygamous Mormon great grandparents would be so proud!

Ehhhh… No. And it’s worth saying “no” because this rhetorical move is likely to be thrown around a lot in the wake of this news story–i.e., people are going to want to suggest that Mormon polygamy and same-sex marriage are analogous. The analogy is usually drawn in the context of suggesting that it’s ironic for the Mormon church to practice polygamy in the nineteenth century but to oppose same-sex marriage today. In a variation on that move, Seth Anderson is invoking the analogy in his tweet to suggest that same-sex marriage is an extension of the values reflected in Mormon polygamy.

That analogy works if same-sex marriage and polygamy are both understood as “alternative relationships”–at which point Anderson can imagine that since his great-grandparents favored one kind of alternative relationship, they would approve of his as well. But that’s a very dubious historical proposition. Mormon polygamy is (was–take your pick, both verb tenses are defensible) deeply implicated in an enthusiastically heteronormative theology. Mormon polygamy is (was) about men and women coming together to multiply and replenish the earth, on the premise that multiplying and replenishing the earth is what God created men and women to do–and if they’re faithful, they’ll get to go on doing it forever, which is the greatest human bliss attainable. It is, literally, divine bliss. It is far from obvious that a couple committed to that theological vision of family and sexuality would approve of a same-sex marriage.

I’m just saying. The sprinkle of rain has now passed. The parade may continue for those folks who feel inclined to celebrate in the streets.

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